A new study examining various opinions on global warming details how most Americans are alarmed or concerned about global warming while only a small minority are doubtful or dismissive.


The report, led by researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, describes six different positions that Americans take on global warming and the percentage of the population that prescribes to the various positions.


The study finds that 18 percent of Americans are “alarmed” about global warming, a position described by researchers as being “fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and are already taking individual, consumer and political action to address it.”


The next level, those described as “concerned,” is the largest category; it includes 33 percent of Americans. This position is characterized as being “convinced that global warming is happening and a serious problem, but have not yet engaged the issue personally.” 


The “cautious,” representing 19 percent of Americans, “believe that global warming is a problem” but are not certain and “don’t feel a sense of urgency to deal with it.”


The “disengaged,” who “haven’t thought much about the issue,” were found to include 12 percent of the population. The “doubtful,” who are 11 percent of the population, are divided about if global warming is occurring but do not see a threat if it is. Finally, the “dismissive,” those who “are very sure it is not happening and are actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” are the smallest category at 7 percent.


The findings indicate that the “alarmed” and “concerned” categories—those who believe global warming is a serious problem—represent over half of the American population. When the “cautious” category is added, the study demonstrates that 70 percent of Americans – more than two out of three – believe that global warming is a problem.


Meanwhile, the two categories of people least receptive to global warming claims—the “doubtful” and the “dismissive”—only account for 18 percent of the population – less than one in five.

The researchers found differences between the six categories on what is causing global warming. A majority of people in three groups (“alarmed,” “concerned” and “cautious”) believe humans are responsible for global warming, while those in the other three groups (“disengaged,” “doubtful” and “dismissive”) believe it has natural causes.


With the exception of the “doubtful” and “dismissive,” a majority of those in each of the groups is supportive of “an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and “regulation of CO2 as a pollutant.” Support for mandating “automakers to increase fuel-efficiency to 45 mpg” was found as the dominant position in every group except the “dismissive.” A majority of every group was found to be supportive of “providing rebates for purchases of solar panels and fuel-efficient vehicles.” However, a “cap and trade policy” barely found support among any group and was opposed by a majority of the “doubtful” and “dismissive” segments.


People in the “alarmed” and “concerned” categories are the most likely to pay attention to “information about global warming,” trust “scientists as sources of global warming information” and trust “mainstream news media as sources of global warming information.” Meanwhile, the “doubtful” and “dismissive” are those least likely to pay attention to the global warming information and the least likely to trust scientists and the mainstream news media on the topic. 


Demographical information for the six groups shows that the “alarmed” are the least likely to be evangelical Christians while the “dismissive” are the most likely to be evangelical Christians. The “doubtful” segment also includes many evangelical Christians. Those in the “dismissive” group are the most likely to be Baptist.


Consistent with the study’s findings, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention frequently speak out against global warming science. However, this study suggests that their opinion is by far a minority perspective within the larger American population. In fact, some SBC leaders not only claim that global warming is not occurring but that there is actually global cooling. Although the study did not address the level of support for such claims, it should be expected that a belief in global cooling would be held by an even smaller minority than those who do not believe that global warming is occurring.


Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has argued the earth is cooling and made animal noises as he attacked Al Gore. Land has misstated environmental data and used poor sources to make his cooling claims and inaccurately claimed that there were no oil leaks as a result of Hurricane Katrina. 

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com

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